The translator I had in Tunis was direct: “Why should we listen to a word you say? You supported Ben Ali throughout!”
My visit to Tunisia was one my first following my appointment as Labour’s Spokesman for the Middle East and Africa in the autumn of 2011.
The translator I had in Tunis was direct: “Why should we listen to a word you say? You supported Ben Ali throughout!”
Blairites old and neo are still on the warpath, literally and figuratively, over Syria.
When Parliament last Thursday said no to military action in Syria, it was a pivotal moment in asserting democratic values and demonstrating Labour’s commitment to the role of the UN in resolving this conflict.
It’s hard not to feel dizzied and bewildered by almost every aspect of the Syrian crisis – including the debate on intervention which has engulfed British politics.
Entirely by accident, and without a majority of any major party wanting it, Parliament has ended up adopting a position of non-intervention on Syria. Responsibility for this debacle rests primarily with the Government for failing to make a watertight case that the Assad regime ordered the use of chemical weapons against its own people.
The spectre of Iraq looms large in the debate about Syria, but even those reluctant to consider military intervention must acknowledge important differences between the two cases. This time the evidence of serious wrongdoing is accepted far beyond the Anglosphere and extends to France, the Arab League and many others.
The other day French Minister for Culture, Aurélie Filippetti, faced embarrassment after a misspelt tweet on her official account. A corrected tweet was posted and Filippetti blamed an aide. Fairly unremarkable news; evidence perhaps of the silly season in France.
It’s easy to sympathise with the petition launched by gay rights activists calling for a boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi. The persecution of gay men and lesbians in Russia is a serious and growing trend that demands strong condemnation.
The basic facts of the conflict in Syria make grim reading. Two years of violence and civil war; over 90,000 dead, with 5,000 people now being killed each month; suggestions that chemical weapons have been used; 4 million people internally displaced, and 1.5m refugees in neighbouring states, about half of whom are children.
As preparations gathered pace in Split for Sunday’s celebrations, marking Croatia’s membership of the EU, the city’s local radio stations provided a fitting soundtrack. ‘Go West’ by the Pet Shop Boys seemed to play almost on loop throughout the day, filtering out of nearly every restaurant or coffee shop you walked by.
Support for enlargement used to be the nearest British politics got to a consensus on Europe. Whatever else divided them, pro-Europeans and Eurosceptics agreed that widening the EU to bring in new members states would be good for Britain and good for Europe. Not any more.
Political momentum is shifting in the West towards intervention in Syria, direct or indirect. Recently Barack Obama has announced that his administration will arm the Syrian rebels. If this actually happens, it looks like the UK and France will follow suit.
Pierluigi Bersani, leader of the main Italian centre-left party, the Democratic Party (PD) resigned in April after his MP’s humiliatingly abandoned him in successive votes for the Italian President, elected by Parliament.
First it was Tory Grandee and former Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe. He was closely followed by leading business figures including Richard Branson and Martin Sorrell. The voice of reason on the European Union is at last being heard, emerging from the muffled clouds where it has hidden for so long while the sceptics gained ground.
Europe represents many things for the Conservatives and is a central part of their ideological tradition. After the extension of the mass franchise the Conservatives looked for ways that they could counteract Labour’s class-based appeal given that they represented the powerful and privileged.
There is a wise adage in politics that leaders, representatives and their parties should listen and respond to the questions the people, their electorate, are asking rather than matters which endlessly fascinate professional politicos but leave virtually everybody else (99.999 per cent of the population) cold.
The Israeli Ambassador to London, Daniel Taub, entirely misses the point in his comments on Professor Stephen Hawking’s decision to pull out of a conference in Jerusalem as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
If you listen carefully, you can hear it coming. With next Monday marking one year since Francois Hollande was elected French President, a tidal wave of I told-you-so’s and smugness is about to be visited upon us by Westminster’s commentariat.
It’s fair to say that most of them have never much liked the French president.
This weekend we marked International Workers Memorial Day to remember the millions of people that die every year from workplace “accidents” and occupational diseases. Over same weekend we also saw the true scale of horrible tragedy that occurred at the Dhaka factory collapse begin to emerge.
Two months ago, after more than a year under an unelected government of technocrats, Italy produced inconclusive elections. It now looks set for another short-term, ‘unity’ government following the election of a new Head of State with a view to an interim government until new elections are called.
“One shouldn’t be happy about the death of anyone, but this woman [Margaret Thatcher] did a lot of harm to us… Therefore I imagine she should be burning in the greatest hell”
These weren’t the words of an ex-miner or Irish republican, but of Carlos Alberto López, an Argentine army corporal seriously injured during the Falklands war.
France and Germany have refused to participate in Prime Minister David Cameron’s much-vaunted examination of whether some EU powers should be returned to member states.
Reported in the Financial Times on 2 April, this extremely significant development has unfortunately received little attention in the British media.
Venezuelan presidential elections will take place on April 14th, the first in almost 20 years not to feature Hugo Chávez. Such is what the Economist calls Latin Americans’ “necrophiliac streak”, the next leader will be seen in the context of Chávez, just as Chávez can usefully be seen in the context of those before him.
Ten years ago this week I was in the process of helping Robin Cook resign from government. Most of the previous decade had been spent helping him to get into government and stay there, so it’s fair to say that walking out in protest wasn’t how it was meant to end.
Since recession in Spain began, largely fuelled by a decline in domestic demand, the economy has shrunk even further, with no certainty of a return to growth any time soon.
The world is changing in an unprecedented way. We have the rise of new economic and political powers and increased instability caused by the Arab Spring, the global financial crisis, resource scarcity, technological innovation and climate change. We have yet to determine the long-term geopolitical consequences of these changes.
When President Marzouki of Tunisia visited London last November, he was emphatic about the importance of political compromise. Speaking on the subject of the then proposed Egyptian constitution, he stressed that it was necessary for all parties to concede on issues that were not to their liking. Only then, he said, could a successful democracy be born.
In the often surreal discussions around Europe we seem to be ignoring the facts, and what Europe is doing for Britain now.
A few days ago, the European Commission announced the two projects that will receive up to €1 billion (£855 million) each over the next 10 years under the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) programme.
Tantric or not, David Cameron’s long-awaited Europe speech didn’t make the earth move for me. What we got was a confused argument that pointed in several different directions at once as it tried and failed to reconcile the demands of Conservative backbenchers while sounding reasonable to an international audience.
General elections in Germany are planned for September this year and Angela Merkel could be elected once more, becoming the longest serving Chancellor of post-war Germany after Helmut Kohl and Europe’s longest serving female head of government, breaking the previous record set by Margaret Thatcher.
Why don’t we have a referendum on the state of the railways? I ask this in all seriousness because a YouGov poll this week showed that more voters regard transport as an important issue for them and their families than Europe. In fact the poll ranked nine issues as being of greater direct concern to them than our relationship with Brussels.
As one of the top ten oil producing nations on the planet, Nigeria has a massive advantage over most of the developing countries in Africa. Coupled with the domestic demand which a population of around 160 million people gives, there is a fundamental strength within the Nigerian economy which offers real potential.
With this year’s US elections delivering not only the return of a transformational President but a Senate of unprecedented diversity and enormous breakthroughs in this generation’s civil rights struggle, it is tempting but dangerous to believe November marked a decisive shift leftwards in American politics.
Labour’s recent decision to join hardline anti-European Tories in voting for a freeze in the EU budget received a sniffy response from commentators and established pro-European grandees like Lord Mandelson. It was either dismissed as an act of base opportunism or taken as a hint that Labour might be drifting back into its old Eurosceptic habits.
Three days on from the re-election of President Obama, the hangovers that followed a night of celebration for Democrats have receded. As a nice bonus, the Republicans, by contrast seem to be facing a four-year long headache. The inquisitions and post-mortems have already began.
If it’s the hope that kills you, let’s all get ready to die again. Four more years to satisfy his liberal critics, catch up with the great expectations, and take on the perennially disappointed. Hope wasn’t the message this time around, but it’s what many will seek for a President Obama second term.
In 2004 Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry faced a maelstrom of negative campaigning, smears and attack ads. One of the main charges against Kerry was that he was a smug and detached member of the ‘liberal elite’.
It’s been a struggle to convince myself that this year’s US presidential race matters very much. In 2004 and 2008, I followed every twist and turn of the campaign, every new poll, on a daily and sometimes hourly basis from the convention season to the result. This time I have come to the party late and without any enthusiasm.
1) President Obama and Mitt Romney have essentially the same foreign policy. The difference is that Obama is a lot more articulate in outlining his. Where he sounded assured and confident and erudite, Romney resorted to language and a tone that would have made George W. Bush proud. His strategy is to “go after the bad guys.
Ben Mitchell looks at the second Presidential Debate in ten observations.
Unlike the first debate, this one was worth staying up for. A good array of audience questions, well moderated, with follow up questions, ensured we got a proper contest rather than the drab affair in Denver.
The idea of popular sovereignty may be significantly undermined in an increasingly interdependent world. Forces from beyond the borders of the state effect the citizens of that state. From the global market to climate change, nation-states can no longer act unilaterally to determine policy outcomes of their own choosing.
Every four years the world waits and worries as the most powerful nation on earth votes to decide who will be the most powerful person on the planet. It is almost certain Ed Miliband privately wants Obama to win and columnists insist David Cameron is eager to see Obama stay at the Oval Office.
Post-Olympics reflections have been in full-flight. The games are one of the most international events the planet gets to see. Athletes of the world travel to a common place to compete. The competitors, media and watching public are exposed to the globality of the human race.
What is probably most worrying about the current situation in the EU is the intense focus on a long term roadmap to create a stronger banking union, without sufficient effort being given to measures needed to sort out the current crisis now.
What would the foreign policy of an Ed Miliband government look like? That was the challenge set for me as a contributor to The Shape of Things to Come: Labour’s New Thinking published by the Fabian Society this week.
Miliband himself has quite properly focussed on domestic priorities since becoming leader.
On 26 March 1999, Russia and China tabled a UN Security Council resolution condemning the US-UK led intervention in Kosovo, which had been launched following the escalating massacre and ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians by Serb forces.
The resolution denounced NATO action as a flagrant breach of sovereignty and demanded its cessation.
In the six weeks since his election, President Hollande has already shifted the focus of Europe away from an exclusive focus on austerity towards a commitment to create jobs and growth.
Next week’s European Summit is a crunch time for the new President.
The Greeks have voted, showing a country that is heavily polarised between pro and the anti-bailout opinion, with Pasok, the socialist party, in a very difficult situation, its consensus having reached an absolute minimum.
Pasok is guilty of having failed to manage a complex situation that it did not create.
417. That is, at time of writing, the British death toll for the Afghan war. The latest victim was Pte Gregg Stone. He was 20. To put it another way, he was 9 when the planes hit the World Trade Centre.
After over a decade, the victories of the Western Alliance in Afghanistan are hard to spot.
It’s increasingly hard to remember what Europe looked like when it wasn’t in the midst of a slow-motion financial cataclysm. As a credit crunch metamorphosed through being a recession into ‘Eurogeddon’, attitudes to the post-war ‘European project’ have inevitably shifted.
A crisis of confidence seems to stalk the West, unemployment remains high and just recently the ILO warned that youth unemployment will remain stubbornly so until at least 2016.
It is intriguing to think that, dramatically, the future of the West depends on the future of the country where the West itself was born.
The decision of whether Greece will stay or leave the Eurozone will have a tremendous impact on Europe and on the United States of America.
Read the first part of Jeremy’s argument here.
One rainy winter’s afternoon a few years ago, I found myself in a large 19th century townhouse in the chic 17th arrondissement of Paris, interviewing a Gaullist city councillor about the upcoming European elections.
‘Vous verrez, Antoine; dans quelques années ils feront comme si je n’avais jamais existé…’ (‘You’ll see, Antoine; in a few years they’ll act as if I never existed…’) remarks the dying President Mitterrand to his idealistic young biographer in the Robert Guédiguian film Le Promeneur du Champs de Mars.
It’s fair to say that the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis has not been kind to the left. A favourite talking point of those writing obituaries for social democracy is that right-of-centre governments have come to dominate the continent, holding power in 22 of 27 EU countries.
Things used to be so simple. It was the 1990s: the Cold War was over, capitalism had won; its victory synonymous with the onward march of globalisation. The end of history was declared. The Bretton Woods institutions – the IMF, the World Bank – had emerged as the champions of the monetarist consensus.
Set in a small city of narrow medieval streets and buildings in which Erasmus once taught, the German university town of Freiburg is steeped in tradition. To the casual visitor it looks like the sort of place where Hansel and Gretel might have gone on to become undergraduates.